Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The waters are high. Things are treacherous.
Many of you who follow this blog have heard the wave of woe coming from the masthead regarding the Texans’ inability on defense to do much of anything without Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt. When Clowney was traded, that wave rose to tidal status. When Watt went down for the year with a torn pectoral muscle, it made landfall.
On the other side of the ball, the Texans’ franchise quarterback was getting pounded into mincemeat behind a porous offensive line. Trading for Laremy Tunsil and moving rookie Tytus Howard to right tackle helped alleviate this to some extent.
With the surge of injuries Houston has endured over the last month or two, it seems that Bill O’Brien’s job these days is running a M.A.S.H. unit, where the key focus is to “patch ‘em up and ship ‘em out,” never quite doing enough to improve things permanently, but doing just enough to stave off the Grim Reaper.
Now, having lived through the worst defeat of Deshaun Watson’s NFL or NCAA career, O’Brien and Romeo Crennel have to figure out how to regain the lead in the AFC South against the division rival Indianapolis Colts with only four days to prepare.
Sounds like they might need Hawkeye Pierce and Trapper John to come to the rescue.
When J.J. Watt has not been on the field, the Texans have recorded a pass rush win rate of 29%. That would rank 31st in the NFL, only ahead of the Lions.
(ESPN metric, NFL Next Gen Stats data)
— Seth Walder (@SethWalder) November 18, 2019
When your team gets shellacked 41-7 in what was billed as the shootout of the weekend, it’s clear that the team wasn’t prepared, despite two weeks of prep time, and got outplayed in every phase of the game. When your entire offense only gains 232 yards after they’ve been averaging 396.7 yards per game, against a defense that’s not even in the top ten league wide, there’s a big problem. When your defense coughs up 491 yards when they’d been averaging 361.4 yards per game, there’s a big problem.
What can Bill O’Brien and Romeo Crennel do about it?
There are no great free agents sitting on the couch waiting for the Texans to call. In fact, guys like Clowney and Watt, widely considered generational talents, are nigh impossible to replace. Chances are the Texans will never have another defensive lineman of Watt’s caliber. The trade deadline is in the rear view mirror, so (even if they had anything to trade) the Texans can’t pull any more rabbits out of that hat either.
But as great coaches through the ages have shown again and again, solid coaching/game-planning/preparation can take a pile of no-name players and turn them into winners. Look no further than O’Brien’s mentor, Bill Belichick, who’s made a career of taking guys not named Tom Brady and turning them into NFL champions. Year after year, Belichick takes run-of-the-mill players and turns them into great teams. At any given time over the last few years, the Texans have arguably had far more talent on the roster than the New England Patriots. It seems, in classic “used to coach under Bill Belichick” fashion, O’Brien and Crennel have taken the opposite approach by taking great players and making run-of-mill teams.
As with everything in life, it all rises and falls on leadership. So, what’s O’Brien going to do?
If we had the answer to that question, odds are we’d be down at NRG right now looking for employment. Since we don’t, all we can do is sit and wait. Listen to the choppers coming in, watch the Texans try to patch up the wounded before they bleed out, and hope this recurring nightmare ends soon.
If O’Brien is truly worthy of being labeled the “best coach the Texans have had so far,” he’ll learn from the Ravens disaster, take out the Colts, do the same to the Patriots, and rise to the next level, injured players or not. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of evidence on film to back that prediction.
If Houston does drop these next two games, and then win out, there’s a good chance they’ll be on the outside looking in when the NFL Playoffs arrive. Not only is missing the postseason not an option, failing to advance past the Wild Card Round isn’t one either.
So, here’s the question for you, true believer: Where do you think the 2019 Houston Texans season ends up? Do they make the playoffs? If so, as AFC South Champs or a Wild Card? Do they final get over the hump and make it to the AFC Championship Game, or do they go home early?